Mark Zuckerberg defended the social network’s decision to keep InfoWars on the platform, illustrating the tension between Facebook’s mission to allow people of all viewpoints to express themselves while also preventing harm.
In an interview with Recode Decode host Kara Swisher, the 34-year-old chief executive talked about the conspiracy site as occupying a place where those goals collide.
“The approach that we’ve taken to false news is not to say, ‘You can’t say something wrong on the internet.’ I think that that would be too extreme,” Zuckerberg said. “Everyone gets things wrong, and if we were taking down people’s accounts when they got a few things wrong, then that would be a hard world for giving people a voice and saying that you care about that.”
At the same time, Zuckerberg said Facebook has a responsibility to ensure that the platform isn’t used to widely disseminate hoaxes and blatant misinformation. If independent fact-checkers flag content as a provably false, “then we will significantly reduce distribution of that content.”
Zuckerberg talked about a central tenant of free speech as defending people’s right to say things, even those things that others find offensive. Where Facebook draws the line — and removes content — is in the case of Myanmar, where United Nations investigators determined that social media (and Facebook in particular) played a role in fanning anti-Muslim sentiment.
“We are moving towards the policy of misinformation that is aimed at or going to induce violence, we are going to take down,” Zuckerberg said. “The principles that we have on what we remove from the service are, if it’s going to result in real harm, real physical harm, or if you’re attacking individuals, then that content shouldn’t be on the platform.”
Conspiracy theories occupy a strange middle ground.
CNN raised the question of why InfoWars continues to have a home on Facebook during a meeting last wee in New York City where News Feed executives came to tout the social media site’s campaign against misinformation. While one executive admitted to being troubled by its conspiracy theories, Facebook doesn’t plan to ban it from the platform.
Zuckerberg admitted, under questioning, that InfoWars founder Alex Jones’ theory that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax “is false.” But that’s not a reason to remove InfoWars from Facebook, where it reaches nearly 1 million subscribers.
“Going to someone who is a victim of Sandy Hook and telling them, ‘Hey, no, you’re a liar’ — that is harassment, and we actually will take that down,” Zuckerberg said.
Even Holocaust deniers, who attempt to negate the established facts of the Nazi genocide, hold views that Zuckerberg express views he said he finds “abhorrent,” but they’re allowed to “get things wrong.” That said, Zuckerberg says Facebook has no obligation to spread those views widely.
“What we will do is we’ll say, ‘Okay, you have your page, and if you’re not trying to organize harm against someone, or attacking someone, then you can put up that content on your page, even if people might disagree with it or find it offensive,'” Zuckerberg said. “But that doesn’t mean that we have a responsibility to make it widely distributed in News Feed.”